Creeping Charlie: How to Get Rid of Ground Ivy

Although it has many beneficial uses, creeping charlie or ground ivy is most commonly viewed as a ground cover weed. Perhaps you’ve recently found yourself wondering how to kill or control it. Or perhaps your question is simply how to control creeping charlie without using chemicals?

If creeping charlie flowers have taken over your yard or garden, you need to know what to do next. Since there are many different species that can be mistaken for creeping charlie, you’ll definitely want to make sure that you know what you’re dealing with before proceeding any further.

I’ve asked similar questions myself when faced with this pest before. If you’re dealing with a creeping charlie infestation, the tips that follow will help you eradicate this pesky purple-flowered weed from your yard.

What is Creeping Charlie?

Flowers and leaves of creeping charlie

Creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea) is a broadleaf weed also known as ground ivy, gill over the ground, or cat’s foot, among other common names. It is a member of the mint family with creeping stems and kidney-shaped leaves that might occasionally be seen as a garden perennial, particularly in its variegated form. After all, ground ivy is a fairly hardy plant, and it grows well in areas where ordinary lawn grasses wouldn’t normally work. As its names suggest, it has a trailing growth habit.

Creeping charlie has been used as a ground cover plant. It has also been used medicinally in the past, which could be one of the main reasons that it was exported from its home with European settlers to other countries. Creeping charlie is now seen in a lot of places throughout the world.

However, most people now consider purple flowered creeping charlie to be a nuisance that’s determined to gobble up their lawn. Creeping charlie can be very hard to destroy since it spreads by creeping stems as well as by seed. Once you pull it up, any pieces that are left behind will make new plants. As a result, it has been labeled an invasive weed in most of the United States.

Identifying Creeping Charlie

Glechoma hederacea

Let’s discuss this broadleaf weed. Creeping charlie has fuzzy, fan-shaped or kidney-shaped leaves with scalloped edges. Clusters of small, orchid-like blue or purple creeping charlie flowers grow on its square stems. However, the plant’s height can vary a great deal based on its growing conditions. Ground ivy can get up to 1.6 feet tall in ideal circumstances, but it can just as easily be under 2 inches in height. In fact, it’s usually viewed as a groundcover, which was one of its original purposes in being brought to America.

Creeping charlie has a decided preference for damp, wooded environments but doesn’t shy away from full sunlight either. It’s often seen on ailing lawns as yet another problem that gardeners need to fix before it gets out of hand. This plant likes nutrient-rich, moist soils in boron deficient areas. Creeping charlie also has a pronounced aroma.

Since one of its common appellations is ‘creeping jenny,’ Glechoma hederacea may be mistaken for the plant that more commonly goes by that name (Lysimachia nummularia). The difference between this plant and creeping jenny is pretty obvious since Lysimachia nummularia typically has round leaves and yellow flowers and lacks leaves that have scalloped edges.

Creeping charlie can also be mistaken for common mallow (Malva neglecta). However, common mallow doesn’t spread by runners, and it hasn’t got the characteristically strong spicy scent that creeping charlie does.

There are other wild plants and edible plants that look like ground ivy. One of these is dichondra, a Texas native with smooth leaves. It too can be used as a lawn substitute and have a weedy nature. Creeping charlie may likewise be mistaken for henbit (Lamium amplexicaule), which is an annual that grows during the winter. The fresh or dried leaves of henbit can be used for food or medicine.

How to Get Rid of Creeping Charlie

Taking immediate action is the best way to keep the purple-flowered creeping charlie from getting out of hand. This video provides a brief look at how to get rid of creeping charlie. However, if you’re secretly looking up stuff online rather than actually working and want to keep it on the quiet side, feel free to read on for some extra tips on getting rid of ground ivy.

With Herbicides

What You’ll Need

  1. 20 Mule Team Borax
  2. Ortho Weed B Gon Herbicide or Weed-Free Zone
  3. Fine Mist Spray Bottle
  4. Pump Sprayer

Some commercial broadleaf herbicides can be used to treat ground ivy. Products that contain dicamba are generally said to work fairly well if they’re used correctly. However, the effectiveness of other products on this ground cover weed tends to vary. So make sure that the product you plan on using can successfully be used to kill creeping charlie before you proceed any further.

You’ll want to read the instructions very carefully before you start applying whatever product you’ve chosen. While most of these products are appropriate for use on your lawn, they will certainly kill any tender vegetable or flower garden plants that they encounter. You’ll definitely need to be careful when spraying to avoid getting the herbicide either on yourself or on other garden plants. (Some recommended sprayers can be found here.)

Another thing to be aware of is that you can’t the same product for several years running or it might cease to work. Gardeners with really bad creeping charlie problems might even decide to spray their entire lawn with broad-spectrum herbicides and start over from scratch. However, this drastic measure is only recommended by professionals if the lawn in question is more than half covered in this noxious weed.

Time Herbicide Use Correctly

Most herbicides should be used when the weather is around 70ºF (21ºC). You should apply your chosen product just after you’ve mowed the grass. You may want to avoid doing further yard work for a few days after that to give the stuff a chance to sink in. It’s then customary to wait about two weeks before applying the herbicide again. A final treatment about a month later might even be necessary.

It’s best to apply herbicide to the mat-like ground cover in the fall. During this time, the ground ivy roots are storing the nutrients that they’ll need to survive the winter, so they absorb chemicals more effectively at such times than they otherwise would. This helps weaken and kill creeping charlie plants over the winter and prevents more growth as the plant spreads. Although ground ivy can be treated in the early spring and summer when it’s in bloom, additional treatments must be applied in order for the process to be successful. Even so, applying herbicides may only keep it at bay rather than kill it entirely.

Without Chemicals

Hand weeding creeping charlie can be an effective way to get rid of creeping charlie without chemicals. However, this process will only work if the plant hasn’t established a stronghold in your yard. You must keep pulling it out for some time afterwards to make sure that you’ve gotten rid of all of it and that it’s gone for good. It’s also a good idea to take the added precaution of wearing gloves while doing so because some people are severely allergic to ground ivy. Do keep in mind that it’s easiest to weed just after a rainstorm or after your garden has been watered.

You can also make life less pleasant for old charlie by reducing the amount of shade in your yard and regularly mowing the grass to the recommended height. A lush lawn will provide you with some protection from this weed. Just make sure that you select a lawn grass that’s suitable for your area or you may have difficulty getting it to grow. You’ll also want to avoid over-watering your grass because this can encourage creeping charlie to pay you a visit. (About an inch is enough for most varieties.)

Another method of keeping it from taking over is to improve your yard’s soil quality and overall drainage. Keeping your garden neat and well-pruned is important for many reasons, primarily that it encourages airflow and will subsequently help reduce problems such as creeping charlie. Of course, mulching your flowerbeds can additionally help keep it out. It might even be a good idea to use shade plants as a filler in wooded or moist areas instead of attempting to have a lawn there. Growing desirable plants that flourish in damp, shady environments instead will leave little space for problematic weeds.

Using Boron

Before attempting to use borax as a weed killer, you should be aware that this method is generally discouraged by college agricultural departments. However, this treatment does appear on a variety of websites as an effective way to get rid of creeping charlie.

The process is to first dissolve 10 ounces of borax in 4 ounces of warm water. Then you should add 2.5 gallons of water to it and blend that together. Finally, the mixture should be sprayed on the affected area. You’ll need to apply the mixture during periods of dry weather in order to obtain the best results. Getting the amounts in this formula right is very important because otherwise, the process could destroy your yard. You could easily end up with toxic soil and even more problems if you’re not careful.

You should also keep in mind that boron is hazardous to other plants and animals when it’s encountered in large quantities. It is certainly not good for other plants. Too much of it can cause them to grow slowly or turn yellow. Using borax may additionally make it hard for the lawn to regrow where the treatment was applied. It could even be bad for the environment over time. However, more research is needed before that theory can be accepted as a fact.

By Fertilizing

Using a large amount of nitrogen on your lawn can help eradicate this weed. Chelated iron is another effective treatment because it burns creeping charlie. The downside is that it must be applied over the entire lawn unless you want random dark green patches all over your grass. Applying chelated iron can also be an expensive treatment method.

Other Uses of Creeping Charlie

Creeping Charlie flowers

The ancient Saxons once used the creeping stems and leaves with scalloped edges of creeping charlie as part of their beer brewing process. It was generally used to clarify the beverage and give it some flavor. This plant has also been used as a substitute for rennet in the cheese-making process. Various species of wild bees still feed upon it, making it useful in that regard.

In Traditional Medicine

The plant can be used to concoct a vitamin-rich tea that may be helpful for a variety of ailments. Creeping charlie was once used to treat minor problems such as eye inflammations, common colds, headaches, and ringing ears. Another historical function of this plant was to clean the internal parts of the body. It was used in this manner to cure kidney problems, urinary tract infections, and indigestion. Lung and respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, have also been treated with creeping charlie in the past. However, you should never use any plant for medicinal purposes without first consulting an accredited physician or herbalist.

As an Edible Green

This easy-to-grow plant was traditionally eaten cooked and in salads, which is no doubt because it has a pleasantly spicy flavor. It’s additionally said to be full of antioxidants and vitamin C.

Despite the fact that creeping charlie has been consumed for centuries, there still remains some scientific concern over its edibility. After all, the plant does contain the same harmful chemicals that are found in pennyroyal, which can damage the liver and induce abortions. However, these compounds are present in creeping charlie in much smaller amounts. No matter what its debatable effects are on human beings, the plant is clearly poisonous to cows and horses. It can even make house pets sick if they eat enough of it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Creeping Charlie

Q: What is best to kill creeping charlie?

A: Typically, a post-emergence broadleaf herbicide is most effective. Borax can be used, but not heavily as the borax will not dissipate in the soil and can cause issues for turfgrass over time.

Q: Is creeping charlie good for anything?

A: There have been a number of traditional medicinal uses for it, and it’s also been used as an edible plant (for humans – in livestock, it’s potentially toxic).

Q: Is creeping charlie a problem?

A: In lawns, it is commonly considered a nuisance. But in grazing pastureland, it’s a major risk to livestock.

Q: What kills creeping charlie but not grass?

A: Most broadleaf herbicides are developed in a way to reduce the risk to grasses while taking out broadleaf weeds, and those are extremely effective. Borax can also be used in limited doses, but too heavy of an application of borax may cause yellowing in turf grasses.